The square foot vegetable garden consists of intensive growth on a 16 ft² (1.5 m²) surface area.  This square can accommodate up to 16 different vegetable varieties. The supply of earth allows for a multitude of substrate combinations. The ground can thus be adapted to suit the varieties you wish to grow and the plants’ density on a small surface facilitates maintenance. In conclusion, square foot gardening allows you to indulge in small-scale organic gardening.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a large plot of land available for creating a vegetable garden. With square foot gardening, several varieties can be grown on a very small surface area. Here are some tips regarding the techniques used to set up and maintain these miniature vegetable gardens.

Description and advantages of the square foot vegetable garden

The square foot gardening technique is a method of cultivation that consists of growing vegetables on a small 4 ft by 4 ft (1.2m by 1.2m) plot of land. This surface area is divided into 9 or 16 squares, with each square being planted with a different vegetable variety. In practice, this plot of land is delineated by a frame made of 10 to 12-inch (25 to 30 cm) thick planks, which is then filled with amended soil. The 4-foot (120 cm) length is very convenient because most of the available DIY materials use multiples of this measure (4 feet). Square foot gardening is an intensive form of growth that has a very high yield. It is possible to produce a lot on a limited surface area and one can have up to 16 different vegetable varieties on the same plot. Regardless of the original soil composition, amendments can be made to suit the vegetable varieties that one may wish to plant. The small size of the vegetable garden also allows for substantial fertilizer supplies, useful to the plants’ proper development. This type of plot is very easy to maintain because the plant density limits evaporation, and the combination of species repel insect pests. The plot’s small size helps protect plants against the cold, bad weather or the sun. Apart from its aesthetic appearance, the square foot vegetable garden makes maintenance a whole lot easier.

How to start and arrange a square foot vegetable garden?

A square foot vegetable garden is set up in the same way as an ordinary garden. The first thing to do is to determine the species and varieties you want to plant in accordance with your needs. Once the varieties and quantities have been defined, you can proceed with the squares’ organization. Consider each variety’s approximate yield to estimate the number of plants to put in the ground and the required surface area to grow them. A square of 12 inches by 12 inches (30 cm x 30 cm) can accommodate 16 radish plants or 9 carrots. Similarly, in terms of harvest, one courgette seedling produces a dozen fruits. One to two seedlings are thus more than sufficient to meet the monthly needs of a four-people family.

Each plot is oriented according to light exposure and wind direction. Plots facing south can benefit from more light. Leave  24 to 32-inch (60 cm to 80 cm) wide walkways between plots to facilitate your movements. Plant the tallest plants (tomatoes) facing north so that they do not cast a shadow over the smaller ones. Climbing plants (beans) or creepers (courgettes) can also be included and are trellised on wire mesh or attached to stakes. Check a companion planting chart to know which species to plant next to each other. Some associations are positive (garlic / carrot, tomato / radish …), while others are negative (radish / cabbage, carrots / beets …).

Refer to the growing schedules of each species to determine their sowing periods and the duration of growth of each variety. These growing periods can last from 18 days (radishes) to 19 weeks (aubergines, peppers) or more after sowing. By taking these factors into account; you can define the mode of crop rotation. You also have the possibility of, for example, planting radishes or lettuce at the base of eggplants. The radishes and lettuce can be harvested after 4 and 7 weeks, respectively. The eggplant, however, takes 19 weeks to reach maturity spacing out the harvest of a same variety is also feasible. You can sow tightly and start picking the plants before they reach maturity. This technique is possible with species such as lettuce, onion and carrot.

Maintenance of the square foot vegetable garden

In general, the maintenance of a square foot vegetable garden is easier than that of a regular one. There are, however, a few elements that require special attention. Keep an eye on the soil’s moisture level because the growing density and the substrate’s proper drainage dry it out pretty quickly If you cannot perform a daily check-up, installing a drip irrigation system may be necessary. Be sure to follow the development of climbing plants on the wire mesh because they need to be trained regularly. Take special care to follow the dates to administer preventive treatments and keep in mind that promiscuity among plants increases the risk of spreading disease. Square foot vegetable gardens require large amounts of fertilizer, so be sure to make amendments regularly. In short, fertilizing your vegetable garden once every two weeks is ideal.

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Published in Individuals by Alexander on 14 Sep 2011